Introducing the BMC Series SDG Editorial Board Members: Edwin van Teijlingen

Edwin van Teijlingen is Professor of Reproductive Health Research and joint director of the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH), Bournemouth University, UK. Edwin has been an Editorial Board Member of BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth since 2008. He is Visiting Faculty at the University of Nottingham, UK, Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Sciences and Nobel College (both in Nepal) and the Centre for Disability Studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, India. He is trained as a medical sociologist and has published over 300 papers. He has conducted research in South Asia, especially Nepal, Bangladesh, and India, for nearly two decades.

Welcome to our SDG Editorial Board Members blog collection. We are hearing from the Editorial Board Members of the BMC Series journals whose work aligns with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Here you can find other posts in this collection, grouped with the tag ‘SDG editorial board members’. 

I am a medical sociologist working in the fields of maternity care, public health, and global health. For the past 13 years I have been Professor of Reproductive Health Research at Bournemouth University, in the south of England. Before that I spent 17 years at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland as Senior Lecturer, and subsequently, Reader in Public Health. My work is based in the UK and in low-income countries, especially in South Asia. All my work, or nearly all my work, is interdisciplinary in nature. Often, I bring a sociological or social science perspective to a team focusing on health, health promotion, or health services research. Because of my involvement in many different research teams my work relates to quite a few UN SDGs. However, the main SDGs for me are probably 3, 5, and 17. SDG 3 ‘Good Health and Well-being’ is at the core of my work as sociologist of health and illness, closely followed by SDG 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ which is key in all health fields, and especially in my post as Professor of Reproductive Health Research studying maternity and midwifery.

The first project I would like to highlight focusing on SDG 3 is an interdisciplinary project, studying the effects of Nepal becoming federal republic in 2015 on its health system. This ‘Nepal Federal Health System Project’ is UK-funded by the MRC (Medical Research Council), the Wellcome Trust and DFID (Department for International Development) under the Health Systems Research Initiative grant. This exciting project is collaboration between researchers at four UK universities, including Bournemouth University, and two organizations in Kathmandu, Nepal: Manmohan Memorial Institute of Health Science and PHASE Nepal.

Strengthening midwifery education to international standards is a key step to improving quality of care and reducing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity.

The central focus of the project is on health policies, clearly linking it to SDG 3 ‘Good Health and Well-Being’, but health is of course connected to almost all other goals and therefore demands a multi-sectoral systems approach. In Nepal, social and health inequities, environmental pollution, large-scale labor migration, disaster planning, the gap between rural and urban populations, and many more societal problems require health systems thinking. We know that general policies and non-health interventions can have health implications at levels of society, from the local community to the national level. This project had a slow start as it coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which seriously restricted both international travel between the UK and Nepal and local travel in Nepal.

I would particularly like to highlight my contribution to SDG 17 ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development’ in this blog. This is perhaps a less obvious choice. Many of our projects run in collaboration with partners in low-income countries, including strengthening partnerships and building capacity in-country as a key element. The Nepal Federal Health System Project incorporated elements of staff and organizational development for our partners in Nepal. These training sessions to date have included sessions on, for example, systematic reviewing and writing and publishing in English-language journals.

The second project in this blog highlights the importance of midwives in ensuring safe, woman-centered maternity care. Nepal, like many low-income countries, still does not have enough appropriately skilled midwives. Strengthening midwifery education to international standards is a key step to improving quality of care and reducing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity.

Our Bournemouth University team, supported by midwifery colleagues at Dalarna University from Sweden, helped develop midwifery education in Nepal in a project funded by GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), the German equivalent of DFID 2019-2021. In Nepal there is a shortage of appropriately trained and educated midwives to teach newly established undergraduate midwifery courses. Our project involves developing a framework for providing academic support to nurse/midwife educators with the aim to enhance their midwifery knowledge and skills. It also involves designing, in collaboration with key stakeholders in Nepal, a bridging program to upskill current maternity workers so they can apply for their midwifery license to practice. This project clearly links to SDG 3, 4 and 17. We faced the same problems as in the project above, that the COVID-19 pandemic started shortly after the start of the project. This seriously hindered our ability to travel to Nepal and deliver clinical training. Some training we managed to do by Zoom but midwifery training needs hands-on, face-to-face delivery.

COVID-19, the disease as well as associated restrictions and lockdowns, will have affected the progress towards achieving the SDGs. My worry is that some will use the pandemic as an excuse for not achieving as much as planned. As researchers we must consider the benefits as well as the limitations of working remotely. We have realized that many research meetings, training exercises and conferences can be conducted online without people have to travel across the globe, thus reducing our carbon footprint as academics. I believe that what we have learnt during the pandemic should continue to be part of our working practice.

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